The number of Marxian ideas and expressions I have forgotten since reading him at university is perhaps something not decently, publicly admissible. But one idea has stayed with me, become something of a talisman of a personal rather than political kind. In The German Ideology (1845) he declares that in the well-governed society, in a communist society, where nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, herdsman or critic.
The well-governed life continues to prove as elusive as the well-governed society, of course, but a day of real/metaphorical hunting, fishing, rearing and criticising has remained an ideal of contentment. It was Henry de Montherlant (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_de_Montherlant) whose aphorism suggested that ‘happiness writes white (“Le bonheur écrit à l’encre blanche sur des pages blanches.” (Don Juan II, IV, 1048)) but in recording something like the perfect day I am running the greater risk of the plush, crushed raspberry colourings of complacency and self-satisfaction. But perhaps describing one’s own pleasure can be a political act.
My daughter has to be dropped off at 7am at school. Elevated to the dizzying heights of Year 7 prefect she is off to Wiltshire to accompany the ‘new kids’ on some bonding, outward-bound sessions. This leaves me near Hampstead Heath and time to jog/walk my way round it in the early morning with just dog-walkers and others getting the sluggish blood moving. Back at home with that serotonin high, paradoxically both both pumped-up and emptied-ready-to-be-filled, I work through some drafts of my current project, a version of Daodejing. As a writer, I came to the Daodejing after translating the German poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke. Perhaps more importantly, it was as a long-standing teacher that I read Laozi’s 81 ‘chapters’. There are colourful myths about their origins, but they were probably a series of orally transmitted seed verses compiled as far back as the 7th century BCE by many Chinese hands, an aide memoire, certainly an aid to teaching.
The Dao or Way is not an individual entity, still less anything divine. It is a mode of being, all encompassing, a phenomenal, existential primacy, perhaps akin to the Western idea of original chaos. The text emphasises its feminine characteristics. It can be viewed from spiritual, epistemological, educational, political or environmental perspectives, though none of these exhausts its true nature. The poems enthusiastically accept that their profound and urgent messages are inevitably compromised by the need to express them in language, hence demanding a variety of technical manoeuvres – they stay light on their feet.
Into college for the afternoon, interviewing students, mostly about mistakes, choices, salvage operations possible for them after GCSE, AS or A2 exams. But also some preparation for the new course we have devised for A2 Coursework combining Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, T S Eliot’s Prufrock and Other Observations, and Nathanael West’s The Day of the Locust. W H Auden’s brief discussion of West in The Dyer’s Hand is interesting, suggesting he portrays a Kingdom of Hell, ruled by the Father of Wishes. I read it, knowing I’m having a good day, some wishes coming true in contrast to West’s visions of West Coast apocalypse. Right here, right now, a brief, various-faceted jewel in the setting of others of more usual monotony. (More of West in another blog perhaps).
Driving home – the rolling dice of Henley’s Corner – I listen to the opening bars of tonight’s Prom: Brahm’s Third Symphony. By 9.30pm I’m walking into the Albert Hall myself for the late-night show: Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis. Didn’t I promise a good day? It’s John Eliot Gardiner and the Monteverdi Choir and Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique (http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b04f8vlq). Gardiner says in a brief introductory interview that Beethoven’s unconventional Mass often skims more traditional moments of the text but is ‘marvellous’ on the ineffability of the Godhead, the humbleness of mankind and I’m in the mood to hear it…
Driving back up the Edgware Road, the sky is big as it seldom seems in London. The lights are bright in the Lebanese restaurants, my eyesight – usually close to blurry – seeming sharp tonight, hyperreal, resonant, woven still with the threads of earlier hours. Tomorrow, will be a thinner diet, more monotone, less good.